Parkrun can’t run away from biological reality

Its ‘trans inclusive’ policies allowed men to smash women’s running records.

James Esses

Topics Identity Politics Sport UK

Over the past year or two, sporting bodies, from World Aquatics to the Union Cycliste Internationale, have started to tighten up their rules on trans athletes. This is good news for fairness. It means biological males, who enjoy all kinds of physiological advantages, will be stopped from competing in what are meant to women-only categories. But it seems that Parkrun, the free weekly running event held in hundreds of parks across the UK, hasn’t yet got the memo.

Parkrun has always made a point of highlighting and celebrating runners with the fastest course times. The website has long featured in-depth statistics and data about runners, including finishing positions, personal bests, milestones and running records. For the many who participate in Parkrun, these publicly recognised goals and achievements really matter.

But there’s a problem with these stats and rankings. Biological males who self-identify as female are allowed to put themselves into the female category. Unsurprisingly, this has prompted a huge amount of anger from female runners who are losing out on the top spots to men. Indeed, according to new research carried out by think-tank Policy Exchange, at least three of Parkrun’s women’s records are actually held by men.

Parkrun initially tried to defend itself from charges of unfairness. A spokesperson claimed that the events are just ‘fun runs’, rather than races or athletic competitions. The problem with this argument is that part of the appeal of Parkrun for many lies precisely in the competitive rankings and stats it makes publicly available – rankings that are distorted by the company’s self-ID policy.

Now Parkrun has changed tack. Last week, it removed all of its speed records from its website and announced that it will no longer be publishing the times of top runners. It will still publish some results from each weekly run, alongside the self-identified gender of each runner.

At the time of writing, the course-record page greets visitors with the message, ‘an internal error has occurred’. It certainly has. Over the weekend, the decision to stop publishing these stats prompted one of Parkrun’s event directors to resign in protest.

In a statement, Parkrun has claimed that it removed all this data from public view in order to be more ‘inclusive’. It said it wanted to ensure that new participants weren’t put off by the fast times of the best runners.

This is more than a little disingenuous. The removal of the stats was clearly a response to the volume of criticism Parkrun has been receiving for allowing men to compete against and beat female runners.

Campaigners and members of the public are refusing to let Parkrun off the hook. As they see it, both the self-ID policy and now the hiding of certain data have deprived female runners of the public recognition they deserve.

Mara Yamauchi, the third-fastest British female marathon runner in history, says she is ‘furious’ at how Parkrun has thrown female runners under the bus. Sharron Davies, the former Olympic swimmer, has called Parkrun ‘cowardly’ for removing the records, rather than acknowledging the unfairness of its trans policy. She has even accused the organisers of enabling ‘sex discrimination’.

There is a simple solution to balancing the inclusion of trans athletes and the protection of women’s sports. Parkrun and other similar organisations should start classifying competitors according to sex. And, if they so wish, they can create a new ‘open’ category for men and those who identify as transwomen. But letting biological males compete in the women’s category is simply not an option for any sports organisation that cares about fair competition. Suppressing the data does not change this.

It’s time for Parkrun to accept that biological sex matters and that women deserve to have their own category.

James Esses is co-founder of Thoughtful Therapists.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Sport UK


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